A Brief History of the Staunton and James River Turnpike

Report No: 75-R59 2003

Published in 2003

About the report:

After the Revolutionary War an increasing number of settlers crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to live in the Shenandoah Valley and Trans-Allegheny Region. With this increase in population, a means of transportation connecting the east and west was needed. Therefore, in 1825, the General Assembly appropriated $50,000 for the construction of a road connecting Staunton and Scottsville on the James River. Construction of the 43 ½ mile dirt road started in 1825 and the first tolls were collected in May 1826. The road went east from Staunton to Waynesboro, over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap, through the Ragged Mountains at Israel’s Gap, and then on to Scottsville. The road passed through many low and miry spots from the Blue Ridge to Israel’s Gap, making it almost impossible for wagons to pass during wet seasons. Although the turnpike carried much traffic, the directors of the company and members of Virginia’s State Board of Public Works continually suggested that the road be Macadamized in order to ensure its year-round use. The General Assembly reorganized the company and increased its capital stock through acts in 1847 and 1849. The company had the option of either Macadamizing or planking the road. The latter was chosen and conversion was started in 1850. The early 1850's were the peak years of the turnpike, even though the road was not totally planked. The emergence of railroads and competition from a Macadamized road running from Staunton to Winchester cut deeply into the use of the turnpike and the road fell into disrepair, finally being referred to as the mud turnpike. In 1860, the General Assembly made it lawful for Augusta and Albemarle Counties to purchase the turnpike, ending a part of Virginia’s early turnpike system.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


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Douglas Young

Last updated: February 5, 2024

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